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End of October Pedal-Chain Update - Episode IX - Imminent Acquiescence

Big Muff Style FuzzBossDelay WorkstationDistortionFulltone EffectsFuzzFuzz Face Style FuzzFuzz-Drive and FuzzstortionMarshall Style DistortionMetal DistortionModulation WorkstationNordland ElectronicsODR Style OverdriveOpAmp FuzzPitchPreAmpReverbReverb WorkstationSilicon FuzzSTL TonesStrymonToneczarVick AudioWah and Fixed Wah+-
2020GPXSKSignalChainPostNAMMOctober700V3.jpg

October has proven to be another fairly significant month - both in terms of new pedal releases / arrivals and my own pedal-chain evolution. I’m also in the midst of a Vick Audio phase - having relatively recently acquired most of the key pedals in that range - including all 5 Tau Series Muff variants - which were all in my chain together for a big chunk of October.

 

There were a number of very significant releases/arrivals this month for me - including the Boss GT-1000 CORE and Strymon NightSky - both of which take up fairly permanent residencies in the chain. The chain sees the arrival of the Vick Audio Lucky 13 Fuzz and V-2 Distortion, also the Nordland Custom ODR-C Overdrive and StL Tones Andy James Revenant Distortion - which I had been chasing for a while. I also thought I would give some more time to the Fulltone Wahfull - before the Dr Scientist Dusk gets inevitably re-upped to that slot.

 

There were a number of pedal releases that really appealed to me in October - several of which I acquired, while for some I’m sort of waiting on them to get into UK distribution. Pedals that got added to my infinite wishlist - include the JHS 3 Series Fuzz and Distortion, Coppersound / Jack White Triplegraph, Catalinbread Heliotrope, PedalPalFX 800 Gold Overdrive V3, and of course the very recent Spaceman Artemis Modulated Filter. Of those the Triplegraph is probably the foremost priority - while I don’t really wish to pay import duties on a $400 pedal - so that’s currently in a holding pattern. Probably will try to negotiate with new pal Jordan Collins - with whom I collaborated with on the Triplegraph article - something for early next year for sure. Jordan has already informed me that it will be some months before the Triplegraph is available with European dealers as they currently are selling out of every batch. At the moment - Third Man Records is the only place you can buy them from.

 

Other notable pedals that were added to the collection in October included the Abombinable Electronics Deluxe Hail Satan Fuzz, Buffalo FX M-1 Stacked Ram’s Head Fuzz, Red Witch Fuzz God IV - alongside the final 4 key pedals I was missing from the Vick Audio range. I was expecting to have a couple of Sitek Guitar Electronic pedals in for the end of October - the Caffeine Dirty Booster and Fuzzie Germanium Fuzz (FF) these are now due to land sometime next week (Actually - just arrived today - Saturday!). There should also be one or two versions of the Fjord Fuzz Gjallarhorn / Fenris Octave Fuzzes due at some stage during November. Looks like my collaborations with Decibelics and Expresso FX are now happening next year!

 

The Strymon NightSky slipped into the chain with ease - I’m finding that a real delight to work with, while I regret that I didn’t get enough time with the EHX Oceans 12 before it was ousted by the NightSky. I’m obviously still continuing my Cards focus series for the Cooper FX Arcades - so a significant part of time in October was taken up by further explorations of the Arcades - and getting the Boss GT-1000 CORE to work seamlessly within my chain.

 

One of my key features in October was on the ODR style overdrives - and I picket up a very significant ambassador for that genre - courtesy of the Nordland ODR-C for which there will be a full review very shortly. I will also be sharing initial thoughts and experiences on the GT-1000 CORE - and thanks to Matt Knight and Mark Harley at Boss for assisting me with that.

 

Generally and barring a few minor incidentals I think we’re very close to the final formation for 2020. For my final Pedal-Chain Status of the year I will of course be bringing back in some previously featured favourites - for my best of 2020 board. In the meantime we still have some November and December machinations to deal with - while I really can’t see any major disruptors or challengers on the horizon. I pretty much have the best candidates already in each key slot as far as I’m concerned.

 

I am hoping to secure a Toneczar Openhaus EQ Distortion in early November - which should become fairly permanent on slot #24, while I’m still mulling over final selection on slot #25 - it’s most likely we will see another old favourite back in position here before year-end.

 

The Best Pedals of 2020 overview is already shaping up to be really very formidable - and there are quite a few there that I really admire, but will not be putting in an appearance in my pedal-chain for a variety of reasons. They’re still all really worthy and valid choices and undoubtedly the absolute right choice for certain players. For instance the Chase Bliss Audio Automatone CXM 1978 Studio Reverb provides certain challenges with its size, and the size of its £899 price. Yet the overall conclusion is that regardless of format and cost considerations - it is the Strymon NightSky that is the more suitable pedal for me. I still hugely admire the CXM 1978 while I’m rather unlikely to ever own one such! But you never know for sure!

 

Note that as before visual legends in green denote 2020 releases, neon blue denotes pre-2020 release, and orange denotes forthcoming arrival.

 

Here then follow the significant pedal-chain changes for October :


Inset

Slot #4 : Auto-Wah / Fixed-Wah / Wah / Envelope Filter

I thought I may as well feature the Fulltone Wahfull once more before the inevitable return of favourite Dr Scientist Dusk. The new Spaceman Artemis stirred things up slightly - in particular SpiralCaster Cohen Hartman's superb demo. The Artemis certainly provides some new and interesting possibilities - while it doesn't have the immediacy and usability of the Dusk and Flower Pedals Hosta - which I will probably likely acquire in advance of the Artemis - which sits currently as a nice-to-have rather than essential - but that may well change as we transition into 2021.


Slot #5 : Typically Germanium and/or Position-Sensitive Fuzz

This slot probably sees the most movement of any - and rarely a week goes by without a new entrant. This month was largely Vick Audio month - and the slot was mostly occupied by the Vick Audio Black Russian BMP Fuzz, and this featured Lucky 13 One Knob Wonder. Likely towards year end I will go back to one of the slightly more multi-tasker variants. The Lucky 13 certainly deserves some time in the spotlight.


Slot #15 : Natural Amp-Like Overdrive and Distortion

This was probably the big surprise for October as I had not been aware of the Nordland brand until one of my readers alerted me to it. Nordland is Nobels ODR pioneer Kai Tachibana - the creator of all those original ODR circuits - including the most recent ODR-Mini variant. His own ODR-C is the most evolved and feature-rich version of that circuit - with the same classic original components, but with 3 smart additional controls. I will be sharing a full review of said pedal likely next week. Very much a unique and distinctive circuit that's definitely worth your consideration - all those Nashville session players can't all be wrong!


Slot #19 : Big Muff / Rat / Extreme Fuzz

The Buffalo FX Evolution has sat on this slot quite a bit recently - so it's only fair that its cousin - the Vick Audio V-2 gets is due innings too. Both are based on the Pete Cornish G-2 - and while the Buffalo Evolution leans rather more into the Plexi/Rat kind of side of that pedal, the Vick Audio V-2 leans slightly more towards its Big Muff roots. Wonderful sustaining distortion textures in any case - with both providing suitably pleasing output. Will be interesting to see what my year-end selection on this slot will be as there are certainly a lot of fantastic candidates for that honour.


Slot #24 : High Gain #2 of 4

I've already noted a couple of times that I should be securing a Toneczar Openhaus EQ Distortion in the next few weeks. I've already connected with Ed Rembold so he should in theory have a unit available for me. As mentioned, I was initially keen to acquire the original more compact sized 3-Band EQ edition of the pedal but Ed convinced me of the superiority of the larger format - now with 6-Band EQ and massively improved noise floor. Experienced high-gain pedal users will know how important the noise-floor factor of a pedal is. Where some alternatives have ridiculous amounts of unwanted noise as well as an overwhelming propensity to squeal and feed back. Ed prides himself in particular on the sophistication of his high gain pedal noise-floors which are as low-key as you could expect.


Slot #25 : High Gain #3 of 4

Talking about noise-floors - this recent addition of mine does have a somewhat particular noise-floor component which makes it predisposed towards feedback and squealing if you're not extremely careful. The StL Tones Andy James Signature Revenant Distortion has a very sort of super-charged almost overloaded distortion soundstage - which gets increasingly untameable when the Gain knob moves above the mid-way position. I note that Andy James himself tends to use the pedal largely with gain around 9 o'c - while I prefer just a touch more saturation. It's quite a distinctive tone of distortion - tight and dense - and sounds somewhat like a super high voltage charge electron beam. It doesn't have that chewy mids character that I quite like in most of my distortions - this is rather a more modern confection as such. It for sure sounds suitably impressive but I've had to adapt my playing somewhat. It's certainly its own specific flavour - and I've yet to decide where it fits in with my absolute favourite styles of distortion tones. I've had the Pushking Irongfinger on this slot too quite a bit recently - so currently I'm really deciding between those two for the next duration. You will know next month if it's a case of stick or twist!


Slot #34 : Stereo Multi-Modulation Workstation / Multi-FX Workstation

The arrival of the Boss GT-1000 CORE has been the biggest significant change of recent times for me - as its arrival caused something of a disruption to my signal flow. Of course my rig is a little more specialist than most - but it still took me a few days to get to grips with the GT-1000 CORE, and it seems my intended way of using it wasn't really fully accommodate in its design. I'm grateful for the help and assistance of Boss's Matt Knight and Mark Harley who together got me over the line and into a more successful phase for the CORE. I will be doing an in-depth review of the CORE during November - and will be sharing a number of essential hints and tips I learned along the way. The CORE is supremely capable with almost infinite variations - but I definitely needed a hand to get a handle on how best to use the pedal for my scenario - much more of that soon!


Slot #39 : Stereo Reverb Workstation

I obviously love my Volante, but it has some inherent clunkiness - particularly with how its presets work - and I was expecting much more of the same from the superbly capable Strymon NightSky. I need not have been concerned though as everything here - and the presets in particular are a huge improvement over the Volante. In fact despite its greater scope of complixity I was really surprised with just how easy the NightSky was to deploy. I confess I've not yet got into the stage of setting advanced tail-sequencing presets - but I've covered pretty much everything else with real ease. This building-block approach to Reverb is simply ingenious - and I would be surprised if we saw a more clever take on Reverb any time soon. Definitely The Reverb for me in a year of fantastic Reverbs!


Final Thoughts and Take-aways

This year has for sure been busy one with quite a number of new pedal arrivals on the scene and into the collection - and my becoming frustrated at times though my lack of playing freedom - as I spent so much of the time in effect testing new stuff. Some of the more complex pedals can take a full month of dedicated exploration to get fully to grips with - but I never have that much time available to me.

 

I frequently regret rotating pedals out of the chain before I've fully 100% gotten to grips with them. For sure I will have gotten a deeper experience out of them than most - but still not entirely to my satisfaction. A great example of that more recently has been the EHX Oceans 12 Dual-Channel Reverb - which was somewhat prematurely ousted by the NightSky. I did though really enjoy what I discovered with the Oceans 12 - including the ability to temper each voicing with a LoFi effect. The NightSky is so totally my thing though that I really could not resist and I could not delay. The nature of how things evolve - the Oceans 12 isn't going to get another look-in for quite a while.

 

My philosophy has always been to acquire the very best pedal for my particular preferences for each designated slot of the pedal-chain. This usually means a slightly more extended feature set with enhanced abilities - but not always. I can't always explain exactly why I prefer one pedal over another - there are so many different criteria - on top of intangibles and idiosyncrasies and it is often down to the tiniest quirkiest detail. By and large though I seek out the most proficient and powerful and versatile pedals in the most compact of enclosures. Obviously for a Multi-FX workstation you need a larger format for it to be properly workable. And I feel that really all workstation pedals need at least 3 footswitches - and sometimes more - courtesy of an auxiliary switch - much like I use the Boss FS-7 for preset switching on the GT-1000 CORE. It still seems certain pedals are not properly designed on the hardware level - including the Eventide H-9 and GFI Synesthesia - as both really need external footswitches too in order to operate optimally.

 

In October already my pedal-chain is very fully formed and suitably impressively populated - and besides some minor adjustments - probably as great and as versatile as it ever has been. I find it hard to imagine how I could improve on most of those slots - although I of course reserve judgement until the year is out.

 

We know that there are some impressive releases to come - including from Chase Bliss Audio and Thorpy FX. There's also the Friedman Smallbox Pedal which is now finally very imminent. And for sure at least a few more movers and shakers before we draw the final conclusion.

 

I normally wind down acquisitions in December in preparation for Christmas - so it's a question mostly of what gets added in November - as anything later than that will likely be carried forward to 2021.

 

I have already earmarked some priority acquisitions for early 2021 - and these include the Big Ear Albie and Coppersound Triplegraph - which I'm for sure going to have 'fun' in trying to fit into the rig in some way! I still also have the CryBaby CBM535AR Wah and TC Electronic Ditto+ Mini to acquire at some stage along with a few more stragglers from 2019/2020.

 

How about you?

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Stefan Karlsson
Stefan Karlsson
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